Trip Report: A Thousand Miles of Memorial Day
Being part of a website start-up is a speedball of contrasting adjectives: stressfull and exciting, frustrating and fun. It’s also a lot of work, and after weeks of deadlines, 503 Error Screens, way to much time spent hunched over a keyboard and not nearly enough time outside, I finally sprung free from the urban confines of Gotham for a few days of reprieve.
My mission was simple: Head toward the Great North Woods and spin a three-day weekend into a five-day road trip.
This trip started like most of mine do: late. After staying late on Wednesday to work up a post about a lunatic who jumped out of a helicopter without a parachute, I still had to convert my commuter bike into a halfway respectable backup mountain bike for the trip—a task I’d inconveniently but unavoidably saved for last. After stripping the frame down to nothing, fitting it with a 1x10 drivetrain and a new, ridiculously light American Classic wheelset (review coming soon) I finally got the reconceived bike, my gear and myself loaded into the car and on the road. It was midnight, but at least traffic was light.
Fast-forward through a quick catnap in Connecticut and a mid-morning pit stop to pick up a used RockShox Reba suspension fork to complete the commuter conversion (thank you, Craigslist.com, and thank you, “Dave A.” of Keene, NH), and I made it to Peterborough, NH, by noon. This purpose of this strategic stop was twofold—visit my grandparents for lunch, and leave with their vintage Shasta camper.
My grandfather bought the Shasta new in 1962, upgraded every inch of it and kept it in perfect condition. It’s been a family fixture since I’ve been alive, and I’ve been itching for almost as long to take it out on a road trip.
I hitched it up and headed for Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom. East Burke is so far north my cell provider started charging me Canadian roaming fees. By the time I arrived I was sleep deprived and my back was sore from driving, but I soon found myself being hustled into the back of a dump truck brimming with bikes and riders.
The group of friends I was meeting had employed the services of Ide Ride, a local guiding outfit run by the brother/sister combo of Knight and Lilias Ide. When Knight isn’t building trails or leading visiting riders through them, he’s busy running a stone masonry company—hence the 3-ton truck, which was standing in until the Burke Mountain chairlift opens for the summer season.
Berms so buttery even eight-year-olds can enjoy them
We set out from the parking lot of East Burke Sports—a fantastic little shop right next to the Kingdom Trails: a 100-mile network of sculpted singletrack that employs a full-time 15-man trail crew to keep the trails manicured and flowing fast all season long. We’d hit the XC trail network the next day, but I’d arrived just in time for the early evening shuttle session on adjacent Burke Mountain.
Before long our load of mountain bikes and riders disembarked near the top of Jester, the area’s signature downhill trail, which Knight Ide built with an excavator and a whole lot of skill and imagination.
I was thankfully able to borrow a GT Sanction for the shuttle runs, and I was glad for the added travel once I got a taste of the trail’s speed, table-tops, sweeping banked corners and massive compound berms. There was talk of trying another trail for the next run, or the run after that, but we ended up repeating laps on Jester until the sun was sitting low. After the post-ride brews and some wonderfully terrible pizza I fell into a deep sleep that first night in the Shasta.
We fueled up at a local diner on Day Two before I got to chasing Knight and a couple other riders around some of the Kingdom Trails’ cross-country options. The OnOne Inbred I brought with me performed flawlessly; my sputtering motor, not as much. A few hours and some 15 miles of prime singletrack later the trails deposited us back in the center of East Burke, a town where the bike shop, pub and the local deli dominate the local economy.
The next stop was Burlington, Vermont, where I picked up my wife from the airport on Day Three (not everyone wants to sacrifice two vacation days for a mountain bike boondoggle). We got brunch in town and waded through the bustling farmer’s market. The Burlington Marathon was taking place the next day and City Hall Park was jam-packed with vendors and visitors.
By the afternoon it was back in the car and back to the Northeast Kingdom, where a reserved campsite awaited at White Caps Campground on the southern shore of Lake Willoughby. The lake is such a hidden gem that I seriously hesitate to write anything about it at all, for fear it will spoil. Suffice it to say, anyone who ventures this far north will be compensated for the effort with a glacial-cut strip of cold liquid heaven. A half-mile wide and 5 miles long, the lake has white-sand beaches on either tip, is full of fresh mountain water that’s 300-feet-deep at its center, and is flanked by the sheer cliffs of Mt. Pisgah summit (2,751') on one side, and Mount Hor (2,654’) on the other. And for an idea of how remote it is: the campground wasn’t even sold out on the Saturday of a sunny Memorial Day Weekend.
Stand-up paddleboardng on Lake WIlloughby
After a night of solid sleep in the chill mountain air we spent the morning of Day Four canoeing in the lake, and the afternoon hiking up nearby Wheeler Mountain. Running late for dinner in New Hampshire, we jumped in Willoughby for a quick refresh and hit the road—my tired old Jeep straining to hustle the definitively non-aerodynamic trailer down the highway.
After a home-cooked meal we pushed on for Connecticut, where we arrived at my in-laws sometime after midnight. The next day I logged one last ride at my one-time hometown trails network: Case Mountain in Hebron, CT. I nearly drained my 100-ounce hydration pack reservoir in a little over two hours. It was a 90-degree, sticky summer day. And it was glorious—as was the icy pool I found my way into afterward.
The ride was my last hurrah before loading up the Jeep for the final leg—this one the long, hard schlepp though Memorial Day traffic back into the belly of the New York City megalopolis.
By the time I got back to New York I’d added another thousand miles to the odometer, burned a full quart of oil and I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as one would expect from a five-day “vacation.” But I rolled back into town with a familiar soreness in my legs—instead of my back—and a smile on my face that ought to hold me over at the office at least a little while longer.